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Ofer I Couldn’t Refuse

The Museum wing named after Sammy Ofer (Photo: Lydia Aisenberg )

During a recent sojourn to London, I included a visit to Greenwich; although such a beautiful area and always so much to see, I had consciously avoided it for years, as whatever the season, the area is always absolutely packed with tourists.

One cannot but marvel at and totally be taken-in by the beauty of the area's phenomenal views from the hill of the Royal Observatory, the twisting, turning Thames down below wending its way past the strikingly handsome historical buildings of the National Maritime Museum, the Queen's House and so much more.

After over half-a-century of living in Israel, I have to admit – even though I still feel totally at home in the UK – that I am also a tourist, albeit home grown!

However, my Israeliness (always so prominent when not in Israel), kicked in to top-gear when coming down the hill from the Royal Observatory, as I spotted the name of the late Israeli shipping magnate Sammy Ofer on the outer wall of the National Maritime Museum's new wing.

As I entered the building, somewhat awestruck, a very cheerful, helpful young lady approached to ask if I need any assistance.Commenting on how striking the building's exterior was and rather wide-eyed when seeing what was on offer inside, she began to explain to me that the wonderful building and contents would not have been possible without the wonderful gift from "a very generous and much respected Israeli shipping-magnate."

When I mentioned I was from Israel, she gently propelled me over to a bust of the gentleman – looking rather stern– sitting in a niche, with a large wall plaque nearby explaining about the new wing's benefactor.

The bust of Israeli shipping magnate Sammy Ofer in the National Maritime Museum, London (Photo: Flickr)

The sign is headed: Sammy Ofer, KBE (1922-2011), under which one reads:

"Sammy Ofer is remembered as a larger-than-life international shipping magnate and philanthropist.The shipping group which he founded today operates a significant part of its fleet from London.After being based in Monaco, he retired to Israel in 2009, where he passed away in June, 2011.

Born in Romania in 1922, Sammy Ofer moved as a child with his family to Palestine, then under the British Mandate. He started his life-long connection with the sea by joining his father's ship chandlery business and during the Second World War he volunteered to serve in the Royal Navy, in which he saw active service in the Mediterranean. Over the following decades he established one of the largest privately-held international shipping groups.

Through his longstanding relationship with London and its shipping community, Sammy Ofer gained a deep appreciation and respect for the long maritime tradition and history of the UK.

This was his underlying motive for his hugely generous support to the National Maritime Museum.The gift enables the museum to connect with a much broader audience and to communicate the value and relevance of the UK's rich sea-going heritage.

Sammy Ofer was also a generous supporter of the Cutty Sark and of the Royal Navy Submarine Museum in Gosport.

In 2008 he was appointed an Honorary Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire (KBE) in recognition of his generous support for maritime heritage."

After spending some hours wandering around the halls of the 2011 display, opened by the Duke of Edinburgh, which includes the Sammy Ofer wing as well as other incredible exhibitions throughout the museum, I returned to the new wing's café for a well-earned and much appreciated cup of tea.

I was sitting quietly, reading the museum guide, and contemplating the enormous historical, educational and nationalistic value of The National Maritime Museum at Greenwich, when the young lady who had approached me upon entering and obviously finishing her work day, walked past on her way out; "Shalom to you and the people of Israel," she called out rather loudly, waving to me as she left the building.



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Sunday, 21 April 2024

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